PICTURES

At least 6 dead in rising death toll in New York buildings collapse

A woman cries as she is brought to the site of a building collapse in Harlem, New York on March 12, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
A woman cries as she is brought to the site of a building collapse in Harlem, New York on March 12, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
A man is loaded onto a stretcher by emergency service workers near the scene of where two buildings collapsed after an apparent explosion and fire in the East Harlem section of New York City on March 12, 2014.  -- PHOTO: REUTERS
A man is loaded onto a stretcher by emergency service workers near the scene of where two buildings collapsed after an apparent explosion and fire in the East Harlem section of New York City on March 12, 2014.  -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Rescue workers push stretchers into thick smoke down East 116th street to the scene of an apparent building explosion and collapse in the Harlem section of New York City on March 12, 2014.  -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Rescue workers push stretchers into thick smoke down East 116th street to the scene of an apparent building explosion and collapse in the Harlem section of New York City on March 12, 2014.  -- PHOTO: REUTERS
New York City firefighters dig through rubble of a building explosion and collapse in the Harlem section of New York on March 12, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
New York City firefighters dig through rubble of a building explosion and collapse in the Harlem section of New York on March 12, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Firemen stand in the rubble at an apparent building explosion fire and collapse in the Harlem section of New York, in this picture provided by the New York City Mayor's Office on March 12, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Firemen stand in the rubble at an apparent building explosion fire and collapse in the Harlem section of New York, in this picture provided by the New York City Mayor's Office on March 12, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Firefighters try to extinguish a fire as smoke bellows from the site of a building collapse in Harlem, New York in this picture provided by Adnan Islam on March 12, 2014.  -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Firefighters try to extinguish a fire as smoke bellows from the site of a building collapse in Harlem, New York in this picture provided by Adnan Islam on March 12, 2014.  -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Firefighters try to extinguish a fire as smoke bellows from the site of a building collapse in Harlem, New York in this picture provided by Adnan Islam on March 12, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Firefighters try to extinguish a fire as smoke bellows from the site of a building collapse in Harlem, New York in this picture provided by Adnan Islam on March 12, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
New York City firefighters dig through rubble of a building explosion and collapse in the Harlem section of New York on March 12, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
New York City firefighters dig through rubble of a building explosion and collapse in the Harlem section of New York on March 12, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
New York City firefighters spray water onto the rubble at an apparent building explosion and collapse in the Harlem section of New York on March 12, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
New York City firefighters spray water onto the rubble at an apparent building explosion and collapse in the Harlem section of New York on March 12, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
New York City firefighters examine the rubble at an apparent building explosion and collapse in the Harlem section of New York on March 12, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
New York City firefighters examine the rubble at an apparent building explosion and collapse in the Harlem section of New York on March 12, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Firemen continue to spray water on the rubble at an apparent building explosion and collapse in the Harlem section of New York, in this picture provided by the New York City Mayor's Office on March 12, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Firemen continue to spray water on the rubble at an apparent building explosion and collapse in the Harlem section of New York, in this picture provided by the New York City Mayor's Office on March 12, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Firemen continue to spray water on the rubble at an apparent building explosion and collapse in the Harlem section of New York, in this picture provided by the New York City Mayor's Office on March 12, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Firemen continue to spray water on the rubble at an apparent building explosion and collapse in the Harlem section of New York, in this picture provided by the New York City Mayor's Office on March 12, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio (centre) walks with City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (left) and New York Police Department Commissioner Bill Bratton (right) before a press conference to report on a five-alarm fire and building collapse at 164
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio (centre) walks with City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (left) and New York Police Department Commissioner Bill Bratton (right) before a press conference to report on a five-alarm fire and building collapse at 1646 Park Ave in the Harlem neighborhood of Manhattan, on March 12, 2014, in New York City. -- PHOTO: AFP 
Two police officers a block from the scene of a gas leak explosion that caused two buildings to collapse on Park Avenue and 116th street in the Harlem neighborhood of Manhattan, on March 12, 2014, in New York City. -- PHOTO: AFP
Two police officers a block from the scene of a gas leak explosion that caused two buildings to collapse on Park Avenue and 116th street in the Harlem neighborhood of Manhattan, on March 12, 2014, in New York City. -- PHOTO: AFP
Emergency personnel look on as a body is removed from the rubble following a building collapse in the Manhattan borough of New York, on March 12, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Emergency personnel look on as a body is removed from the rubble following a building collapse in the Manhattan borough of New York, on March 12, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Firefighters from the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) respond to a five-alarm fire and building collapse at 1646 Park Ave in the Harlem neighborhood of Manhattan, on March 12, 2014, in New York City. -- PHOTO: AFP
Firefighters from the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) respond to a five-alarm fire and building collapse at 1646 Park Ave in the Harlem neighborhood of Manhattan, on March 12, 2014, in New York City. -- PHOTO: AFP
A police officer talks to a resident displaced after a building collapse at 1646 Park Ave in the Harlem neighborhood of Manhattan, on March 12, 2014, in New York City. -- PHOTO: AFP
A police officer talks to a resident displaced after a building collapse at 1646 Park Ave in the Harlem neighborhood of Manhattan, on March 12, 2014, in New York City. -- PHOTO: AFP
New York City firefighters respond to a five-alarm fire and building collapse at 1646 Park Ave in the Harlem neighborhood of Manhattan, on March 12, 2014, in New York City. A major explosion caused by a gas leak flattened two Manhattan apartment buil
New York City firefighters respond to a five-alarm fire and building collapse at 1646 Park Ave in the Harlem neighborhood of Manhattan, on March 12, 2014, in New York City. A major explosion caused by a gas leak flattened two Manhattan apartment buildings in a fireball on Wednesday, killing at least six people and injuring scores of others. -- PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (AFP) - A major explosion caused by a gas leak flattened two Manhattan apartment buildings in a fireball on Wednesday, killing at least six people and injuring scores of others.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio called the incident "a tragedy of the worst kind" because the smell of gas was detected "but there was no indication in time to save people". His office said nine residents from the two collapsed buildings were still unaccounted as night fell.

The death toll was described as likely to rise.

Firefighters battled throughout the afternoon to extinguish the heavy fire in East Harlem, where witnesses compared the scene of twisted metal, thick white smoke and dusty rubble to a war zone.Click here to see before-and-after shots of the incident 

The explosion sparked inevitable reminders for some New Yorkers of the 9/11 terror attacks in 2001 that brought down the Twin Towers. Other witnesses said it felt like an earthquake.

There were 15 apartments in the two buildings that collapsed, Mr de Blasio and city officials told reporters near the scene at 116th Street and Park Avenue, a mainly Latino community.

Around 15 minutes before the blast, energy company Con Edison received a call from an adjoining apartment building alerting maintenance staff to the smell of gas.

The explosion struck around 9.30am (1330 GMT) and the New York Fire Department said firefighters were on the scene two minutes later.

"There was a major explosion that destroyed two buildings. The explosion was based on a gas leak," Mr de Blasio said.

It was the first deadly disaster of its kind to strike the city of eight million since the Democrat took office in January and will raise concerns about safety in less affluent neighborhoods.

"There is a tremendous amount of anxiety, but suffice it to say that every effort is being expended to locate each and every one of these (missing) individuals," the mayor said.

The Mexican Foreign Ministry said two women who were among the dead were Mexicans, along with one of those injured.

Lamenting the "deeply unfortunate incident", the ministry said in a brief statement that Mexican consular staff remain in close contact with New York authorities.

Four different hospitals told AFP they treated a total of 63 patients, the vast majority with minor injuries.

A spokesman for Mount Sinai hospital said 22 people, including three children, were treated. Nineteen were discharged.

One woman was critical but stable with head trauma and two other people were still being evaluated in the emergency room, the spokesman said.

The New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation tweeted that its Harlem and Metropolitan Hospitals received a total of 30 patients who suffered a variety of injuries.

A spokeswoman for New York-Presbyterian Hospital said that doctors received 11 patients, with 10 still under evaluation.

Hundreds of police and more than 250 firefighters were on site with emergency trucks, as a dense column of smoke spewed into the sky over the Metro-North railway line.

The blast forced the suspension of train services in and out of Grand Central Station in midtown Manhattan for part of the day.

Ms Jazzmen Arzuaga, 30, said she was at work at a hospital when her wife rang to tell her what had happened.

"She called me and told me 'Oh my God, you need to come home now, it's like World War II, people are dying, there was an explosion.' I just literally ran," she said.

The couple live across the street from the blast.

Ms Arzuaga's wife Jay Virgo, also 30, said she was lying in bed when the blast threw her to the floor.

"There was glass everywhere, huge pieces of glass. It just looked crazy," she said.

Mr Con Edison confirmed that a resident reported smelling gas inside the apartment building at 1652 Park Avenue.

"Our crews are checking our gas lines and working to isolate any leaks that they find and they're working closely with the FDNY to make the area safe," company spokesman Bob McGee said.

Register here to get free digital access to The Straits Times until Aug 9, 2015.
Comments